IT Operations

Lawsuit says HP took advantage of customers’ sunk costs with printer updates prohibiting third-party ink

The plaintiffs claim HP pulled a bait-and-switch by trying to “monopolize an aftermarket for replacement ink cartridges.”
article cover

Andrey Mitrofanov/Getty Images

· 3 min read

Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to cloud computing, IT Brew covers the latest trends shaping business tech in our 4x weekly newsletter, virtual events with industry experts, and digital guides.

Tech giant HP is facing another class-action lawsuit over a firmware update that locked printer owners out of using third-party ink.

Like a print job that ran out of that good ol’ CMYK, HP has sought to have the lawsuit, first filed in January, thrown out. In a response to the motion to dismiss this month, The Register reported, attorneys representing the printer owners wrote they “never entered into any contractual agreement to buy only HP-branded ink prior to receiving the firmware updates.” They added HP had tried to “monopolize an aftermarket for replacement ink cartridges” by taking “advantage of customers’ sunk costs” and had violated multiple anticompetition laws.

Complaints about HP’s practice of preventing printer owners from using third-party ink had seemingly already been settled—HP paid more than $1.3 million in a previous class-action lawsuit. Plaintiffs in the current suit argue that HP also agreed not to reimpose what it called “dynamic security,” but that it backtracked in 2022 and 2023, when printers registered with HP began receiving automatic firmware updates that quietly imposed another software lock.

“Consumers do not have a choice to opt out of specific software or firmware updates,” the plaintiffs in the newer suit wrote. “If a printer is connected to the internet, the update downloads automatically. Typically, consumers do not know when updates occur.”

Reached for comment, HP spokesperson Katie Derkits told IT Brew the company doesn’t weigh in on pending litigation.

A Washington Post investigation last year noted that many manufacturers sell printers at low profit or a loss to recoup revenue through ink sales—and typically charge far more than competitors. HP also runs an “Instant Ink” subscription service that CFO Marie Myers has described as “locking” a customer into a “longer-term relationship.”

HP CEO Enrique Lores said in January that the company’s security chips protect buyers from cartridge-borne malware. According to Wired, there’s little evidence any such attack has occurred outside HP-commissioned research. Lores also said the company loses money on every printer sold and instead makes a profit on supplies like ink.

During the current suit, HP has argued it never hid the restrictions from customers, and cartridges with HP chips technically aren’t HP-exclusive as they can end up with resellers. In a March filing, HP lawyers wrote that the firm “goes to great lengths to disclose that its printers are intended to work only with cartridges that have an HP chip,” though it “does not block cartridges that reuse HP security chips, and there are many such options available for sale.”

As The Register noted, HP also claims that federal law prohibits the plaintiffs from seeking damages, as they bought cartridges via intermediaries rather than directly from HP.

Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to cloud computing, IT Brew covers the latest trends shaping business tech in our 4x weekly newsletter, virtual events with industry experts, and digital guides.